Former Vice President Dick Cheney says the United States should have “immediately” destroyed the drone that went down in Iran so the Tehran regime could not benefit from any intelligence that might be gained. Cheney also said on CNN Monday that the end of active U.S. military presence in Iraq — and the imminent withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan — are perilous due to the Iranian nuclear threat.
“The right response to that would have been to go in immediately after it had gone down and destroy it — you could do that from the air, you could do that with a quick air strike — and in effect make it impossible for them to benefit from having captured that drone,” Cheney told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “I was told that the president had three options on his desk — he rejected all of them.
“They involved sending somebody in to try to recover it or — if you can’t do that, and admittedly that would be a difficult operation — he certainly could have gone in and destroyed it on the ground with an air strike,” Cheney said. “But he didn’t take any of the options — he asked nicely for them to return it — and they aren’t going to do that.”
Burnett asked Cheney what he thought of the reduction of U.S. military presence in Iraq and the implications it has for the volatile region.
“If you look at the broader area out there, we’re now in a situation where we’re pulling all of our troops out of Iraq — period no, stay-behind force — [President Barack Obama’s] trying also to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan . . . after he put forces in on a surge basis, he’s taking them out early,” Cheney said. “It generally looks like a U.S. withdrawal from the region. And add to that the fact that the Iranians are actively pursuing nuclear weapons, and I think it diminishes the U.S. presence — it reduces our leverage — it in effect is going to significantly alter our position in that part of the world, and I think that’s a mistake.”
Burnett then asked whether the former vice president had any regrets about the decision to invade Iraq and whether with the withdrawal of U.S. troops is it possible that what comes in the future might be worse than what was in the past.
“That’s not the way I look at it. The way I look at is in Saddam Hussein you had a terrible dictatorial operation that cost thousands and thousands of lives — and you got rid of the worst offender,” Cheney said. “And having done that — and we obviously were part of that, we helped lead the effort — then it was important to help the Iraqis establish something better to replace it.
“They had a constitutional convention — they wrote a constitution — they held three national elections, four now, I believe,” he said. “They opted for democracy — and that’s good — that’s a positive benefit. I think when somebody does that, the United States needs to . . . stand up and support it, especially when we had a hand in getting rid of the old regime. We had an obligation.”
Burnett wondered whether the United States should intervene in Syria.
“Well, I think Bashar Assad is a bad actor without question. I think what we ought to do is try and support the efforts that are under way bit Arab League,” Cheney said. “One of the intriguing developments there has been that a lot of the nations in the region have turned on Assad. So the Saudis as well as a lot of the Gulf States have gotten much, much tougher with the Syrians — called on them to stop killing their people. I think we ought to work through that effort and try to support and channel those efforts to see if we can’t get rid of Assad.”
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